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Otago researcher’s new IT tool aids archaeological accuracy

Trees flowering on campus

Friday 16 April 2010 11:00am

A University of Otago archaeologist’s novel software tool that allows improved management of archaeological field data has earned him a $50,000 prize grant from the University’s commercialisation arm, Otago Innovation.

Associate Professor Richard Walter entered his Excavation Manager tool, known as “ExMan”, into Otago Innovation’s latest Proof of Concept competition. The external judging panel included a number of New Zealand venture capital investors.

ExMan is a wireless based system that minimises error rates in field databases by allowing instant and accurate recording of all the details of finds as they are excavated, says Associate Professor Walter.

“In an archaeological excavation everything you pick up has to be accurately recorded to its three dimensional location; when it was collected, who by and what the object is. The amounts of data can be colossal – 20 to 30,000 records from a site. It’s an unrepeatable exercise; you’re dealing with unique New Zealand history, so you can’t get it wrong,” he says”

“With ExMan we use simple hand-held devices for data entry. Every artefact is recorded immediately and the entry is sent via a wireless connection to a central server on the site. A unique barcode label is printed and stuck to the bagged item. The system keeps track of the item through all stages of analysis, from field, through all stages of the laboratory analysis to long term storage.”

The device’s error checking algorithms have shaved database error rates to well within acceptable levels, he says.

Otago Innovation Commercialisation Manager David Christensen says the Proof of Concept Grant competition, which is now in its fourth year, aims to encourage researchers at the University to think about commercial applications for their research.

Associate Professor Walter, who is the first researcher from the Division of Humanities to win the grant, says he developed ExMan to provide solutions for fieldwork projects his research group, Southern Pacific Archaeological Research, was engaged in.

“I think the system appealed to Otago Innovation because it can be easily applied to other sectors, such as forensics or museum exhibition management, and we had a strong working relationship with local company Intergen, who developed the underlying software solutions.”

He will now work with Otago Innovation to pursue the development of ExMan for redesign and marketing across a range of industries.

For more information, contact

Associate Professor Richard Walter,
Director, Southern Pacific Archaeological Research (SPAR)
Department of Anthropology, Gender and Sociology
Tel 64 3 479 8754

David Christensen
Commercialisation Manager
Otago Innovation
Tel 64 3 479 8781

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